Warnings: violence and some sex; spoilers for all games; the end of the world
On the Title: from the song "The Mission" by 30 Seconds to Mars
On Desmond's Dreams: I've noticed they leave considerably more room for interpretation than I had thought. After some consideration, I have decided to neither change nor explain them. Feel free to think of them what you wish. The only important thing to remember is that the eagle and the lion are significant and that Desmond is still feeling the effects of the bleeding effect.
On Spelling and Grammer: Chapters are not beta-read unless otherwise stated. I'm sorry for any unreadability. I'm doing my best.
On Artistic Licence: I'm making most of this up as I go along. Technology, science, geography, history... take your pick. I think it all fits, but if you spot some particularly glaring mistake, please let me know.
On Updates: Updates happen when they do. I'm still trying to stick to a schedule but you can probably see how well that one works.
On Continuity: This story does not take into account events past AC2, this was when I started writing. There is no Brotherhood, no Secret Crusade and most of all, no Revelations. Some overlap happens in later chapters, when I could make it fit the story.
ABOVE THE SERPENTINE
Chapter 1: Sapiens Vivit Quantum Debet, Non Quantum Potest
It was the last safe house. Not the last in an end-of-the-line sense, but getting uncomfortably close to that state. It was the only within the vicinity, though, the only one left on the east coast. Their original plan was thwarted, nearly killing them all and so they had decided to split up. Shaun and Rebecca were going to Canada and the west coast respectively. They were harder to track in that way and far easier to kill should they be found, but they all knew how to run risks.
Lucy wasn't going to let Desmond out of her sight, though, even if he probably could take care of himself better than any of them. He possessed parts of the puzzle they all lacked, but there had been little time to acquaint him with the workings of the organisation.
It was a pompous apartment, expensive and huge on an upper floor of a New York skyscraper. Hiding in plain sight, in its most comfortable way, leaving paperwork and bureaucracy to cover it up.
Desmond gave an appreciative whistle and walked inside behind Lucy.
The living room lay in shadows. The windows went out over the city, its lights glittering like diamonds. It looked peaceful and quiet from here, with a sense of tranquillity the reality of it would be lacking completely.
Desmond threw himself on the low couch and dropped his head back. "Yeah, it's good to... "
Lucy made a sharp gesture with one hand and hushed him urgently.
She had felt something was off the moment she had walked in, but now she saw the vague blue glow coming from an adjoining room, where the door was slightly ajar.
Desmond followed the direction of her gaze, a silent intensity crept over him suddenly and he regained his feet smoothly and walked to the door without making any sound at all. Lucy's heart hitched in her throat in a sudden lurch of fear, but she forced it down mercilessly. It would take some time until she got used to Desmond no longer needing protection.
He pushed the door open slowly, the tension of his body betraying his readiness to react, to attack or evade whatever awaited him there. He made a movement of surprise, but then relaxed a little and walked in.
"It's fine," he said in a strangely toneless voice. He stepped aside to let her pass.
A man sat behind the desk on the other end of the room, the light from a laptop screen hiding rather than revealing his face.
She trusted Desmond's skill in determining the man's intention, but friend or not, he was still a stranger in a place where there definitely should not be one.
"Who are you?" she asked.
She saw the stranger shake his head and then he slid to his feet with the same consummate grace that Desmond was just beginning to develop. Only, in him, it seemed to have reached a level far beyond what human muscle and skin and bone should be able to achieve. He moved like water, perfectly fluid, but with a strange solidity that spoke of a trained fighter.
Lucy tensed, watching the movement. Not just a stranger, but an assassin, unmistakable and an experienced one at that. He stepped around the desk.
"Switch on the light," he said. There was the faint echo of an accent in his English, but not enough as to give her any clue about his origin.
It was Desmond who moved, who took a step aside to scan the wall briefly for the switch. She was unwilling to take her eyes of the stranger. Everything about him screamed of danger, motionless and unthreatening as he held himself.
The lights came on, flooded the room in sudden, clinical white light, tracing the stranger's tanned features. He still didn't move, standing as if in the spotlight.
He looked immediately, instantly familiar, though Lucy wasn't sure why - or how - that was even possible. At the same time, she could have sworn she had never seen him before, never seen anyone move like that - or stand still like that.
She heard Desmond grasp and then whisper, "That's not possible."
The line triggered something inside Lucy and her mind began, sluggishly, to assemble the pieces as they had been thrown at her. It was true, she had never met him before, but she had seen him often enough on one screen or another. Distorted as a reflection or as other people's memories, or displaced and off the way people often saw themselves. And more recently, there had been a statue, larger-than-life and every bit as deservedly imposing. The reality of him had thrown her, the dark jeans and black leather jacket, the short, styled hair that made him look like a hip, successful businessman.
Desmond, always so much closer to everything, of course Desmond saw past the facade fast, but she found she completely agreed with his assessment.
Altaïr inclined his head. He was older than he had been in the memories they had recorded from Desmond. Somewhere in his forties and aged well at that, especially considering his actual age of some 800 years.
"You read my diary," he said. "The Codex, though it was never meant to be that revered. You know I was tempted to use the Piece of Eden to prolong my life. You must have thought of the possibility I would take it."
Of course he was right, but there hadn't really been time to pursue all and every possible implication of what they had only so recently learned.
"You never died?" Lucy asked, rather pointlessly as it were. "But why did you never approach us? We are fighting your war. And we are losing!"
But she could tell he wasn't going to give her an answer to that.
"I'm here now," he said instead. "You've found the prophet."
Lucy send Desmond a quick glance. Now, that she knew what to look for, the resemblance was quite startling. Eight centuries and more and the bloodline ran almost completely true.
"Yeah, well," Desmond said. "For whatever that's worth."
"How do you know about that?" Lucy asked. Her voice had regained some of its strength and force.
"I believe I hacked your network," he said with the hint of a smile crossing his face. "I've had the time to learn a few new tricks."
"Clearly," Lucy said. for all her mind was racing, it wasn't coming up with many useful thoughts. She had seen a lot of things in the preceding weeks which she would have thought previously impossible, but she would readily admit that this just about took the cake. To make it worse, her instincts wouldn't stop screaming at her. There was something so inherently deadly about Altaïr, which was not surprising at all. But to face him, here in the flesh with nothing but a room's width between them was something new. For all her hard-won skills and for everything that Desmond had learned in the Animus, there was very little doubt Altaïr would take them both down within moments and it wouldn't be much of a fight.
"I don't know about you guys," Desmond said, pushing his fingers through his hair. "But I really could use a drink."
He tucked her along, his hand closing around her upper arm, pulling her back into the living room, forcing her to stop staring at Altaïr with that barely concealed hostility.
Altaïr strode after them, his hands buried in the pockets of his pants. He stopped a little distance away from the bar, out of easy reach from Lucy, but his attention rested on Desmond, who went down behind the bar.
"Nothing for me," Altaïr said.
Desmond pulled a wry grin. "I guess that's because you are used to encountering yourself."
"Not necessarily. I still don't quite understand the powers of the Piece of Eden and however it succeeds in sustaining my life is far beyond my comprehension. I don't know why it works and I don't know when, how or even if ever it will cease to work."
"Sucks, huh?" Desmond said. Crushed ice clanked against the glasses, more so than was strictly necessary as he slowly prepared the drinks. Time for Lucy to get her thoughts back in order, but his own composure wasn't more than skin-deep either.
"How did you know about the apartment?" Lucy asked suddenly. She itched to call Shaun, but it was too risky. She would be on her own for at least a week and preferably more. "Safe houses are not in the network."
It had occurred to neither of them to doubt he was who he claimed to be. Desmond would have seen through the lie, after all, and no one would ever even conceive one of this magnitude.
"Hiding in plain sight?" he asked. "I looked in the phone book."
"And how did you get in? The lock was fine and the porter would have said something."
Altaïr shrugged slightly. He pulled his hands from his pockets and Desmond stopped momentarily with what he was doing, just as Lucy's gaze was compelled to where the finger was missing. He wore fingerless gloves and the sleeves fell forward, making it impossible to tell whether there was a blade or not, but Lucy was certain there was.
He walked to the bar and sat down on a stool, resting his hands lightly in front of him. "I bribed handsomely and made some subtle threats. Is this questioning truly necessary?"
Desmond resumed his work, but found he was nearly done. The short respite gone before it could defuse the tension. "Are you sure you don't want anything?" Desmond asked.
Altaïr watched him for a long moment and Desmond wasn't sure there wasn't a hint of disdain in his gaze. "Coffee, since you are offering."
Desmond nodded, but then stopped. Coffee would mean he'd have to leave the room for the kitchen and then Altaïr and Lucy would be alone and she still had that odd fight-or-flight look about her. For a moment Desmond wished he could explain to her that no threat, truly, came from Altaïr. He wished there was some way to make her see it.
Lucy cleared her throat and shook her head. She had shifted her position to stand slightly behind Altaïr. Not enough to maybe unsettle him, but enough so Altaïr probably couldn't see the gesture.
"So all this time, but now you come here?" Lucy asked. "Just like that?"
But it was Desmond who answered in Altaïr's stead. This was the part he knew, after all, this was what Subject 16 had known, what Ezio had at least suspected.
"Because it's ending," Desmond said. He looked at Altaïr. "Isn't it? That Aztec or Incan or whatever calendar thing? The world is ending in a couple of weeks."
"More or less," Altaïr said. "I don't know what will happen." He turned in his seat so he could look at Lucy, talking to them both.
"Consider the following: If nothing is true, then there cannot be such a thing as predestination. There can only be... potencies for different futures. And if you know where to look, or have the technology to tell you such, then you make prophecies which will be nearly always accurate. Unless the premise is wrong, of course." He quirked his lips into another vague smile, making the scar stand out brightly white for a moment. Desmond had never really thought about it. His hand twitched upward to trace the scar on his own lip, thinking all the while that Ezio had been similarly marked.
"There is no truth," Lucy said with some finality.
There was, however a certain sense of symmetry, Desmond thought, feeling the scar keening.
"And what about that woman under the Vatican?" he asked. "She knew I was going to watch that scene through Ezio's eyes hundreds of years later. What was that, a lucky guess? What if my parents had called me Cameron?"
"That's..." Lucy began, though Desmond could tell she had not much of an answer to him. But Altaïr interrupted her. He said, "That's not important. We have to believe in something. And if there is no predestination, for any of us, or for the world, that means whatever ending is approaching us, we can still fight it."
Desmond pushed one of the glasses towards Lucy. "I'm with him. I'd rather go down fighting than wait demurely until something eats me."
Lucy hesitated. The exhaustion showed clear in her face, until she shook her head, shook herself seemingly free of it. She walked forward and took the seat by the bar, at Altaïr's side, picking up the glass with a sigh. "It makes sense," she said. "What do we do?"
It seemed a hard-won conclusion, Desmond could tell. He didn't completely understand her unwillingness to trust Altaïr. He suspected he himself should be far more floored by the man's sudden appearance than he was, but after everything, Abstergo, the Animus, Assassins and strange powerful artefacts... at some point he seemed to have ran out of mental capacity for bewilderment. At least Altaïr was better news than most of the rest had been.
Desmond picked up his own glass and tipped it to Lucy's before he drank.
"Well, I," Desmond said. "Am going to make some coffee."
"We are going to Mexico," Altaïr said, making Desmond stop on his tracks and turn around. "We need to go to South America, but I'd rather avoid the airports around here."
"Templars?" Desmond asked.
"That too," Altaïr said. This time, the smile was brief, but distinctively real. "They keep giving me the terrorist treatment and it's such a hassle to get my weapons past them."
Desmond sniggered as he walked into the kitchen. It wasn't really funny, once you got to think about it. More than ten years and paranoia in America was getting worse with every passing year. Desmond, despite his own exotic looks, had hardly been subjected to it, but give the policemen some credit for instinct. Altaïr would ring warning bells on anyone used to danger, Arabic or otherwise.
From the kitchen, Desmond heard Lucy's voice.
"Why are airports in Mexico any better?" she asked.
"Fewer Templars," Altaïr replied. "I've been in Guatemala before coming here. The path is clean behind me, but it would have been a waste of time to do so this far north. We will only be passing through."
The coffee machine gargled, drowning out their voices. Desmond glanced through the door. From this angle he could only see Altaïr's elbow, poised on the bar counter, but his stance was relaxed enough. Desmond found a tray and assembled all accessories he thought they could use with the coffee. The tension between Lucy and Altaïr still bothered him and using steaming coffee as an argument made him feel like someone's housewife. Better than the alternative, he guessed, besides he had nothing to prove to either of them. Lucy was an insider to all of this, she knew more than he did regardless so there was no point in competing. And Altaïr was... well, Altaïr for fuck's sake.
He carried the tray back into the living room.
Lucy was actually giving him a smile when he arrived. "Oh gods, I'm tired," she sighed, wrapping her hand around a mug the moment Desmond put the tray down.
"You know," Desmond began, taking the last remaining seat. "I'm kinda wondering if Ezio is hiding behind the bathroom door or something, waiting to jump us."
Altaïr smiled slightly again. "He is hardly that type of man."
Lucy gave Desmond a quick, meaningful glance. Interesting choice of tense in that sentence, my ancestor. I wonder if you'd give me a straight answer?
"But he is going to show up?" Desmond asked. "I keep hearing about family get-togethers, but this one must be up there with the best. They should make a film of it."
"Unlikely," Altaïr said, but Desmond wasn't sure whether it was about possible Ezio's appearance or Desmond's proposed film project.
"What do we do once we get South?" Lucy asked.
"Truth be told, I had hoped you would know," Altaïr replied, putting the cup to his lips and watching her above the rim.
Lucy snorted. "Just great. But you know we need to go south?"
"It makes sense. You saw the vision as well as I did."
"Did we?" Lucy muttered, but Altaïr simply continued.
"The Maya gave us the date and the woman - if she was a woman at all - in the Vault gave us the direction, which again points to the Maya. If we mean to fight, we should do it on the battlefield."
"I must contact Shaun and Rebecca," Lucy said. "Everyone." She looked at Altaïr. "Isn't it?"
He only nodded and put the cup down. "Don't rush it. We have still time. Give the situation a chance to cool down. Regardless, I would like to know how your experiment with Desmond turned out."
"What do you mean?" Lucy asked, suddenly alert again.
"This bleeding effect. I want to know how much he's learned through it," he said and Desmond involuntarily winced at the mention. He had tried his best to suppress his misgivings once he had figured out what was at stake, but sometimes he couldn't help it. Only a handful of weeks ago he had had an ordinary life with dreams of something grander. He had been just like everybody else and than everything had gone pear-shaped on him. The bleeding effect. Accidental, probably, the first time around, though he was no longer sure about that. What was Altaïr asking, anyway? How much of an Assassin he had become inside a damned computer programme?
"He has all of Ezio's skills," Lucy said confidently, before Desmond had a chance to disagree. "And some of yours," she added.
"Good," he nodded. The cup made a quiet chink as he set it down on the polished counter. "I'd like to see it."
It took longer for Lucy to register the sudden change in him, longer than Desmond certainly, whose instincts kicked in instantly and he bounced to his feet like a thrown rubber ball, careless of the stool that swayed in the wake of the movement. But compared to Altaïr's swift, sure movement, they might as well have been stuck in slow-motion. He glided from the stool and past Lucy with all the precision of a striking serpent.
Desmond sorted his legs behind, had time to do so, just barely, for whatever support it might offered before Altaïr collided with him, tearing him down as if there had not been any resistance at all. Ezio might have avoided the attack, but while Desmond had all the man's skills, his body was still new to them, his muscles only sluggishly followed what instinct and borrowed experience screamed at them to do. Desmond squirmed away, tried to roll, anything, but Altaïr's right hand caught his shoulder as his left closed on his throat.
Desmond grasped, felt the hard edge of the hidden blade's sheath push against his skin. A different construction than what Desmond had seen, smaller, completely covered in the black material of the glove.
Belatedly, Desmond realised that Lucy had given a surprised yelp and jumped away herself. He saw her now, past Altaïr's shoulder hovering too close in indecision. He caught her eye, rather than bothering to fight on, beseeching her silently to stay out of it.
Abruptly, Altaïr let go, moved back and regained his feet fluidly. He stood relaxed while Desmond sat up and resisted the urge to put his hand against his throat to search for a puncture.
"That wasn't necessary!" Lucy announced. She had taken a fighter's stance, but made no other aggressive movement.
"I like to know the measure of my allies," Altaïr said.
"Disappointing, isn't it?" Desmond croaked. Altaïr hadn't pushed hard and the scene had been short. He wasn't sure why his voice was coming so rough or why his breathing had hitched.
Altaïr tilted his head to the side. Making seem golden suddenly, by some odd trick of the light. "I've seen worse."
"Yeah? By what measure?" Desmond asked. He thought the annoyance as it crept up on him was Ezio's rather than his own. Shortcomings notwithstanding, it shouldn't have been quite that easy to surprise him.
"There are limits," Altaïr said. "Experience was implanted in you, but it needs to take root first. I can teach you."
Desmond glanced up at the Assassin sceptically. "Sounds like bucket-loads of fun."
"Hardly," Altaïr said and extended his hand. "I'm a rotten teacher, or so I've been told."
Desmond gripped the hand and let himself be pulled back to his feet.
Sapiens vivit quantum debet, non quantum potest. (The wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can.) - Seneca the Younger